Lao food is packed with flavor and they make liberal use of the vegetables and herbs that grow in abundance locally. But the main staple of the Lao diet is sticky rice. We got a rather convoluted description of how sticky rice is made (how it becomes sticky), but there seems to be a lot of soaking involved, and some different treatment of the hull perhaps. They make a ton of it, usually twice a day. It’s filling and the Lao people eat it with every meal, so we tried to eat it often as well. We learned during our stay in the village, when we were provided with no utensils, that they also use sticky rice as an eating implement. You take a clump out of the basket, wad it up into a ball, flatten it a little so it’s somewhat shaped like a shovel, then use it as a scoop, with your thumb on the other side to press the food into the rice. Pop the whole thing in your mouth. This is how they eat everything but soup – for that they use spoons. The local food seems to be stir fried veggies and whatever else you can find. Morning glory was especially tasty. They have different varieties of stuff we see here – small eggplants, odd tomatoes, bok choy-like greens, etc. They put whole chunks of ginger in their soups (watch out), just like you would slice up a carrot. Meats seem a bit harder to come by in the village, but it generally appeared to be stir fried with the other stuff.
On one of our jungle excursions, our guide made us a bbq’d lunch – veggie and beef kabobs in a spiced tomato-ish sauce. Fantastic. Also some ground up chili paste stuff to dip the sticky rice in that was phenomenal. There were also several plants growing by a waterfall that they simply yanked out and took a bite of – like a cow. I tried a few of these – were kinda like parsley for the most part. I also tried the dried buffalo, simply to be polite, since it looked like a petrified earthworm. It was solid rubber and I could barely bite into it, so I really couldn’t say how it was, as I’m not sure I tasted it.
Most of the hotels/b&bs served “American” breakfast…eggs (fried, scrambled, or omelet – which is beaten then fried, but not scrambled, and not necessarily stuffed with anything), baguette with jam or butter, and fruit (usually banana and papaya, and then it varied between watermelon, pineapple, and dragonfruit), coffee or tea. Lao coffee is STRONG. Green tea is a bunch of leaves in a cup with hot water. Mint tea was the same and quite good. Occasionally we found pancakes which were good (mulberry or bananas, with honey, not syrup). In their homes, Lao breakfast is typically leftover dinner from the night before.
My favorite dish by far was Laap. It’s a minced chicken salad (or beef, or pork, or fish, yak, or…) with TONS of fresh mint, green onion, probably lemongrass, and various other spices, on greens. Dressed in a very light tangy, probably oil based sauce. Sometimes with hot chilis, sometimes not. Each restaurant did it a little different, but it was always great. This is one I’d want to make at home. Incredibly flavorful. Our favorite restaurant did the chicken and tofu laap very well, and had great veggie curry fried spring rolls. I did have fish laap on a picnic lunch while kayaking – it was actually pureed with eggplant and pretty darn good (because it didn’t taste like fish).
We had green papaya salad almost every day. Again, it varied from place to place, but was always excellent. Variations on spiciness and what else was in it. Green tomatoes, eggplant, etc.
The best eating spots were 2 of the guest houses we stayed in, where the restaurant was attached, and the owner/manager/cleaning staff/chef cooked you a meal whenever you happened to show up. Again, fresh produce and herbs from their garden or down the street. [We] had great tofu curries.